How to get sports scholarships as an athlete in Canada

The legend of the “full ride” scholarship athlete shapes Canadian’s dreams for their hometown heroes. However, star athletes in Canada can struggle to get star treatment when it comes to athletic scholarships to fund their education.

The single pilot program to create full-ride equivalent scholarships for female hockey players wrapped up in 2021, with no sign of revival. Although U Sports has not published any recent data, in 2013 the average athletic scholarship totalled at $1060, roughly one-fifth of average tuition at the time. We asked U Sport for updated numbers on the average amount of U Sports scholarship funding student-athletes receive per year, but the organization has not yet responded.

In this context, it is no surprise incoming students are left wondering if Canadian athletic scholarships are worth their effort.

So are athletic scholarships worth it in Canada? Yes, for two big reasons.

  1. Students going through the recruitment process to become a varsity athlete are simultaneously being evaluated for student-athlete funding that can cover as much as their entire tuition and student fees.
  2. Student-athletes often qualify for many additional smaller scholarships which can join grants and bursaries to close the remaining funding gap.

The foundation: Athletic Financial Scholarships

Athletic scholarships in Canada will be more accessible and equitable than ever before, due to U Sports policy changes for the 2024-2025 academic year. Student athletes will no longer need to meet a minimum grade average to be eligible for athletic scholarships.

U Sports, formerly known as Canadian Interuniversity Sport, is the organization that administers athletic competitions between member universities. It also provides scholarships to varsity athletes that are allocated at the discretion of coaches.

Although many student athletes are still required to maintain a certain academic performance by their universities to compete on varsity teams, the lifting of blanket restrictions levels the playing field for many students.

For example, if you had a 79 per cent grade average in high school, you would have previously been ineligible for scholarship support funded by U Sports. Today, you can seek funding alongside the recruitment process like any other athlete. If you struggle to adjust to your workload in university and see your GPA drop below 60 per cent in your first year, that is something you can work out with your university. Previously, you would have automatically lost your funding.

The new policy also supports female athletes by requiring universities to allocate 45 per cent of scholarship units (the amount of funding required to support one student’s educational expenses per year) to student-athletes on women’s teams, alongside 45 per cent to student-athletes on men’s teams. Universities can use the remaining 10 per cent as they see fit.

These awards, called Athletic Financial Scholarships, are often substantial but vary by university and athletic department. At many universities, U Sport funded awards are capped at $4500 per student per year. However, athletes can technically receive up to an amount equal to having their student fees and tuition completely covered. Universities should provide scholarship offers with clearly written terms explaining what is expected of you as a student athlete, and the funding you will receive in exchange.

Your guide to getting athletic scholarships in Canada

Step 1: Plan out your timeline.

  • As early as possible, you should identify all of your application deadlines, including university admissions, provincial scholarships and community-based scholarships.

Step 2: Connect with your future coach.

  • You can contact coaches to ask questions about school-specific processes at your target schools. To do this, start with the U Sports member database to identify the coach of the team you would be playing for.

Step 3: Nail your on and off-campus official visits.

  • Official on-campus visits are funded by the university, and typically involve some sort of evaluation. If you are invited to an ID camp or individual assessment on-campus, this is considered an official visit.
  • Official off-campus visits usually involve a sit-down meal with a university representative. This is where you want to demonstrate your well-rounded strengths as a person and a student.
  • You will only get one shot at an on-campus and off-campus official visit at each institution per year, so it is best to be prepared. GrantMe provides interview preparation services to our students, and Student Account Managers can similarly help you get ready to make the most of your official visit.
  • For football players, the rules for recruitment and official visits are more restrictive. Football players can only accept official visits at five schools, and they also must respect the recruiting blackout periods.

Step 4: Sign your letter of intent.

  • You do not have to sign this to become a varsity athlete, but it cements your position.
  • Other university coaches will stop trying to recruit you once you have signed this, and you will become ineligible for an Athletic Financial Scholarship at another institution in the same year. Before you sign, consider your options carefully. After you sign it, you are considered a prospective-recruit!
  • This letter may also include the terms of an Athletic Financial Scholarship. You should also read this carefully before agreeing to it. The terms will likely focus on your obligations to the university, rather than what your specific coach expects of you as a competitor.
  • You are not guaranteed admission into the school by this letter, and separately need to go through the process to enroll in your chosen university program. You can continue applying to other universities after you sign a letter of intent. The signed letter of intent is “null and void” if you do not gain admission at the university you originally signed a letter of intent for.

Step 5: Continue applying for more scholarships!

  • Just because you have hit the cap on U Sports-provided athletic scholarships, does not mean you are done. Before and after this process, you can seek funding from your province, your future university and various other scholarship providers.

Beyond U Sports Funding

While Athletic Financial Scholarships can make a huge difference, it is also important to not lose sight of localized opportunities. Here is where GrantMe can help you graduate debt-free. GrantMe can provide you with a list of each scholarship you are eligible for and help you with your applications.

There are tons of community athletic scholarships provided by sports unions and bodies. For example, any member of a softball club registered provincially and with Softball Canada can apply for a $1000 scholarship. BC School Sports is providing many $1000 scholarships to students who participated in high school athletics. Students can also seek a provincial scholarship of $1250 through their high school’s nomination for a District/Authority Scholarship for their excellence in athletics. Likewise, Albertan athletes can apply for $1800 in funding via the Alberta Athletic Award. Meanwhile, the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations offers a $5000 scholarship to six Ontario students entering university. These are just a few examples of the range of athletic scholarships available.

Meanwhile, general scholarships often focus on community involvement and leadership. Many student athletes are deeply connected to their community, and just need support to communicate the impact of their experiences.

GrantMe can support you in marketing your leadership and dedication on scholarship applications through workshops, 1-on-1 support and an essay editing service. Once you get on a roll, you will see how applying for many scholarships can add up to make a huge difference on top of your Athletic Financial Scholarship.

You can and should still apply for any scholarship opportunities in the United States for student athletes. Studying outside of Canada requires even more time, planning and effort, but GrantMe supports students to achieve their educational dreams in the United States all the time.

At the end of the day, it is most important that you know your aspirations are possible close to home. To all the Canadian dreamers who want to graduate debt-free in our country: we got you.

You can take charge of your future today by taking our program assessment quiz. This is a great way to find out if you could benefit from working with a GrantMe education consultant and whether or not you qualify for our comprehensive offering of programs.

With a bit of planning and forethought, getting scholarship funding amounting to a Canadian full ride is within reach.

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